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'We're So Unprotected'

Anti-Russian protests, like this one on August 25, have stopped.

2 p.m. local time (10 a.m. GMT)

While I'm out collecting thoughts from Poti's residents, one woman recounts how she didn't get any sleep last night: "I thought every car that was passing by was a [Russian] helicopter. We're so unprotected. Russian soldiers are digging trenches right before my eyes, and I'm supposed to believe that they're doing it for no reason? I'm just sure that if those American vessels had entered Poti harbor, something would have happened -- I have no doubt."

Another, a thirtysomething woman dressed in jeans who says she has lost friends in the open conflict this month, says she "doesn't want to see new hostilities at any cost" and pleads for caution so as not to provoke hostilities by the Russians.

I can't say for sure, but that sentiment might have been behind the fact that the demonstrations against Russia's actions that had been taking place every day here in Poti have stopped. The most recent one was two days ago, actually, and apparently they were halted with some prompting from Georgian authorities. (Could word of the expected arrival of a U.S. naval ship have contributed to the caution?) The general public, too, seems reluctant to be perceived as stirring things up right now.

I stop by the market again today, and find far more people than yesterday. Prices are at pre-conflict levels, as far as I can tell. Vendors say there was a spell when a shortage of cigarettes sent prices higher, but that's over.

Wholesalers are complaining, though, saying sales are anemic. They also say distributors have increased their prices for just about everything.

In the center of town, I see some people -- most of them pretty young -- relaxing at an outdoor cafe drinking beer in the heat.

I can't help but think that, at first glance, a visitor without any knowledge of what's happening around Poti might not suspect that there's anything out of the ordinary going on. It's crazy, since at the same time, just a few kilometers away, the Russians are still digging their trenches.